Non-Traditional Careers for PhDs – 5 Alumni Share their Stories

By Vinam Puri

iJOBS recently organized a panel of 5 Rutgers Alumni who graduated with PhDs and went on to pursue non-research jobs. Moderated by Dr. Janet Alder, the panel shared their unique stories including their career paths and day-to-day activities of their current position. This post will capture the experiences shared by all panelists.

Anna M. Dulencin is the Sr. Program Coordinator for Science and Politics Initiatives at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. She is responsible for developing programs that explore how science, technology, and politics intersect.

Anna graduated from Rutgers with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and took a break to think about how she could make a difference with her skill set. She stayed very proactive during her break and continued networking, which helped her at several stages of her career path. She developed an interest in politics and got in touch with NJ Chief of Staff to see how someone with her background can be useful. This led to a job offer in DC but she could not accept due to relocation issues. During this process, she connected with a Scientist who helped her transition to Montclair State University as a Biomedical Research Consultant. She shared an interesting point from her networking experiences –

“If you ask people for money (jobs), you get advice and if you ask them for advice, you get money (jobs).”

While at Montclair she started attending workshops at Eagleton Institute out of her interest in politics. She became aware of an opening for a coordinator, applied, got accepted and has made tremendous progress in the initiatives she is working on.

For Anna, most days at Eagleton Institute are focused on the Eagleton Fellowships and Workshops. She works on how to run these events in the best possible way by expanding on issues that could engage scientists in a civic way. A lot of her work includes organizing and managing the various details of these events.

Dawn Lee is a Scientific Director at Scientific Solutions. For Dawn, graduate school was a time of self-reflection and she was able to focus on some key factors – she is passionate about science and communication and she wanted a break from research. She started attending iJOBS events and learned about medical writing through an old contact.  Realizing that she wanted a role that is more connected to science she secured a job as a Medical Writer, which involved writing for publications and she absolutely loved that. She stayed in that role for 5 years and had opportunities to help pharmaceutical companies liaise with PIs in order to communicate science. She then got curious about the other side of the Pharma industry and wanted to do something that was patient-focused and had more impact on the end game. She found medical affairs to be an area that is patient-focused, involved a wide range of projects, more than just writing, and something that involved creative innovation. She now has many years of scientific communication and medical affairs experience.

A lot of her daily activities involve receiving client tasks, signing contracts and Statement of Works, agreeing on deliverables by applying her project management skills, resourcing tasks to writers and quality control. She has to do a lot of client consultation and show them better options to communicate their content.

Her suggestions to the attendees include tailoring the resume to fit target that the employer seeks. She emphasized not being afraid to apply to jobs that require some experience. This is where all those years of doing extra activities in the lab could become really helpful.  Most organizations need to see a sense of responsibility, a pro-active personality, and organizational skills that most PhDs already have.

Fatu Badiane-Markey got her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from Rutgers last Fall and is currently working in Communications at the Rita Allen Foundation. When Fatu was in grad school preparing to take her qualifiers, she realized that she truly loved science, but she did not want to stay on the lab bench. Soon she started as an iJOBS trainee and found out about science policy. She got fully involved in both by starting to write for the iJOBS blog and participating in the Eagleton Fellowship. While the blog strengthened her as a communicator, the fellowship was an eye-opening experience for her. She learned how the government works and she understood how much of an impact research can have.

Having learned about her inclination to work in the communication area of science, she started applying for jobs a year before defending. She was introduced to some policy jobs in DC, but she was more interested in local policy. She also applied to science writing positions coming from the experience of writing and editing for the blog. When she found out about a communication position at an NPO, she tried to learn more about the foundation and really liked what it did. The Rita Allen Foundation supports research and the environment around research; it provides grants and helps researchers conduct biomedical research. Her position combines her science policy interest with generation of engagement through communication. She has been at the job for less than a year and completely loves it.

Fatu’s day at the job involves general and science communication. She gets to reflect on the researchers work and generate communication for a variety of audience. She does outreach activities and identifies potential funding receivers. A lot of her effort is on generating interest in the audience through content in various formats and to connect the community to science.

An assistant professor at Montclair State University, Bob O’Hagan, learned about different career paths through iJOBS. However, he did know that his number one career choice was academic research the alternative would be working for a Non-Profit Organization. While on a job hunt he did not send out a lot of applications, but he knew the location has to be NJ. He heard back from a few jobs but honed in on undergraduate schools. Bob had no teaching background and knew it was going to be challenging for him so he started doing demo lessons to get feedback, which helped him get selected for the current position. His advice on job applications is to keep fine-tuning your application package. It is important to look at the details of the posting and tailor your application.

Bob’s day at the job involves a lot of teaching prep; he is constantly looking for new ways to teach. Since he is going to start his own lab, a lot of his time also include ordering items needed to run the lab.

Charles Song is a recent graduate from Rutgers with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience who is now working as a Senior Analyst at Flywheel Partners. In the 3rd year of his Ph.D., he started thinking about his future career. He calls this his “Interest Finding Stage” where he started paying attention to the things that he found interesting. That is when he realized he needed something more than bench science. As an iJOBS trainee, he attended events to find out what kind of jobs he could do with a Ph.D. He found out about a lot of options but to avoid getting overwhelmed, he decided to eliminate the options that he definitely did not want to do. Not being a native English speaker, he ruled out writing as a career. However, he was interested in the business of pharma and also had an interest in investments.

The next phase involved “Bulking up his Resumé”. When he realized he had little to put on his resumé other than his publications, he started to do more to bulk it up. He joined iJOBS Phase 2 and got a short-term internship. He got a mentor who he would meet once a week and shadow at his job at an NYC consulting company. This is where he developed an interest in the area of consulting and joined the consulting club at Rutgers. He took a consulting class and participated in case competitions that demoed what his projects could be like and even won a contest in Princeton. He also got selected for a 3-day program by McKinsey & Company where he worked on another case with a group. He did all these as he was finishing up the last stage of grad school.

In his “Application” phase, he started to get interviews but no offers for some time. He really refined his resumé strategy and made it a constant process to get people to review and act on tips received and kept it to one page. He incorporated buzz phrases and keywords to tailor for the industry. Being an international student, he also had the challenge of visa issues and to overcome that challenge he made sure he prepared really well for his interviews. His case contest experience really proved useful as he was able to use it for his interview presentation at the company that hired him.

Charles’s regular day at the job is divided into two main activities – working on the projects and managing projects, with the former taking up 60-70% of his time. His work includes content creation, preparing client materials for review, putting together launch strategies and some excel coding. The other part of the job requires constant communication and coordination to align with the vision of the organization with that of the client.

As I prepare for a leaving graduate school, I think this event opened me up to a number of possibilities and experiences that can help me shape my next step in career development. Let us know if you found something in the 5 stories above that influenced you in any way.

This post was edited by Maryam Alapa.

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